Virgin Galactic to test crewed flights, Branson to fly in 2021

Bruce Leibowitz

Virgin Galactic comes one step closer to ‘space tourism’. The company plans to perform first crewed test flights of VSS Unity from October 22, 2020, document by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says.

The date marks the start of a time window for the British spaceflight company to perform its SpaceShipTwo aircraft test flight with two pilots on board. If successful, the second test flight would follow shortly and have a crew of four.

However, before sending its crew to space, Virgin Galactic intends to conduct two four-hour suborbital tests for its dual-fuselage jet WhiteKnightTwo. The tests are scheduled for October 1 and 7. 

“Such flight will be conducted to train pilots on flight systems, test upgrades to the WK2 flight systems, and provide pilots with simulated SS2 approach flight profiles,” the FCC documents read.

If the testing phase goes smoothly, the company expects to fly its founder Richard Branson in Q1 2021. By then, the service would be 16 years in development since its initial reveal back in 2005. Branson himself had predicted that the world would see its first suborbital tourism flight by 2007.

In the fourteen months after SpaceShipTwo’s maiden flight on December 13, 2018, the Virgin Galactic had reported nearly 8,000 ticket reservations. The company said that with suborbital flight services nearing launch, the ticket prices would look to increase.

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